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Treasure Valley doctors work to combat opioid abuse during pregnancy

Posted at 9:39 PM, Nov 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-23 12:28:53-05

Opioid abuse is on the rise and it's affecting the smallest Treasure Valley citizens. Babies born to mother using prescription opioids or heroin can experience withdrawal-like symptoms after birth. It's called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

In 2015, St. Luke's Treasure Valley assisted with 6,000 births. Out of those, 49 babies were treated for NAS. Meaning, eight out of every 1000 babies born had symptoms of NAS. That number is slightly higher than the national average of seven of 1000 births.

"Often times, they'll appear completely normal at birth," St. Luke's neonatologist Dr. Decklan O'Riordan says.

O'Riordan says many babies are born to mothers who are using or who have used opioids during birth, but show no symptoms of NAS.

Babies treated for NAS can experience trouble sleeping, excessive crying, increased appetite without being able to gain weight and jittering.

"You can see that their hands shake for a prolonged period and their feet will shake as well," O'Riordan says. "It's just a picture of a baby that's very, very uncomfortable."

Dr. Stacey Seyb has been an obstetrician with St. Luke's for more than 16 years. Seyb says he's seen a dramatic rise in opioid abuse in the past decade.

Seyb says though babies generally make a full recovery from NAS in the NICU and there's no research that definitively proves they have adverse health effects later in life, these babies can still be at risk.

"I think most of the risks that go around addiction and pregnancy when it comes to opioids has more to do with behavior and their social circumstances and the things they might be doing to endanger themselves or their baby," Seyb says.

Seyb says screening mother for dependency issues needs to be a higher priority.

"We as medical providers need to learn how to screen, more effectively, our patients earlier in pregnancy and find out exactly what's going on in their lives," Seyb says. "I think we need to offer them support, and they need to be evaluated to find out how big of an issue is this in their lives."

In order to help more Treasure Valley mothers and babies, the doctors at St. Luke's are developing a program to treat every aspect of addiction during pregnancy. The program, which has yet to be named, will include prenatal care, access to narcotic addiction treatments such as methadone, and assistance from mental health specialists.

"Our whole goal is to make sure that we provide care for you and your baby," Seyb says.

The focus of the program is not on punishment, but on health and recovery for both mother and child.

"While you're pregnant, we aren't required to report to authorities or [Child Protective Services]," Seyb says. "If we can help you and get you headed down the right path, we might ultimately avoid any CPS involvement, not to mention, maybe having a healthier baby, one that doesn't have to go to the intensive care unit."

Seyb says the program is available to any Treasure Valley mother who needs it, all she has to do is ask.